Clarendon, Vermont - July 28, 2011
Vermont's famous for its maple syrup, known for its great skiing and now Gov. Peter Shumlin wants to add wood pellets to that list.
"I'm a big supporter of pellets. I'm a big supporter of small biomass, which this is," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.
Shumlin toured Vermont Wood Pellet's factory in Clarendon Thursday.
"We are a very small wood pellet company, our scale is very small," said Chris Brooks, the CEO of Vermont Wood Pellet.
Brooks says a typical wood pellet plant would produce anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 tons a year. His factory ranges from 10,000 to 20,000, but he says staying small has its perks.
"For us we've found that we can keep close touch with our loggers. We know who they are, we know the wood product, we know where it's coming from," Brooks said.
Shumlin says smaller facilities like Vermont Wood Pellet have seen success on the biomass front. It's the larger-scale companies that have more problems to power through.
For example, Green Mountain College built a biomass plant last year that took until this summer to come into compliance with the state.
"They had some challenges in the beginning as biomass plants often do-- it's a little bit like tuning a really complex machine. But much like Middlebury's operation, once they're up and running they work very effectively," Shumlin said.
Not only do the large-scale plants have more problems to work through, they're also more expensive. The Green Mountain College plant cost $5.8 million to build and won't be paid off for at least 18 years. The plant in Middlebury cost more than double that at $12 million. Officials say they expect it will take at least 20 years for the plant to turn a profit.
"Most incentives right now are based on large-scale facilities and there are very few incentives for smaller scale facilities. Is that right or wrong? I don't know, but it's one of the things we're discussing," Brooks said.
Brooks is on Gov. Shumlin's Biomass Board. They say determining the adequate scale for this industry is a high priority. A priority that promises profit from pellets.